On driving home from work yesterday, I noticed him sitting on the street, with his back against a shuttered store, beside a beautiful tawny dog. I'd noticed them both before, sitting there, but they'd not been around for a few weeks. Every time I dropped change into the young man's hands, I always regretted not having picked up treats for the dog. We had already planned to go out, I put the plan in the back of my mind for safekeeping.
And promptly forgot. The busyness of getting home and doing emails, checking Facebook, unpacking stuff from work, just shoved the safe, which was keeping the idea, into a dark and dusty recess in the attic. So as we were heading up the street, I saw them in the distance and cursed my forgetfulness. After warning Joe I spun the chair around. We went to a local store where we knew we could get dog treats, picked up two bags, got some change and were back out the door. All in the space of less than five minutes.
Back on the street, I was prepared. I felt a tad uncomfortable as it seem presumptive to simply buy something for someone else's dog, but I'd rather make a mistake of generosity than a mistake of miserliness. I rolled up to him and spoke, "I hope you don't mind but we've picked up a couple bags of dog treats for you dog. He looked up at me and grinned. "Thank you so much," he said.
I then took the change and couldn't reach the small receptacle he had out for people to lean down and drop coins into. I handed the coins to him and said, "I'm afraid I'll have to give these right to you, I can't get at the cup over there." He said, "That's alright, I understand," and took my change directly into his hands. I said, "Thanks."
I backed the chair up in preparation to head forward again. He said, "We've all got to understand each other and help out don't we?" I said that we did.
Throughout the rest of the evening I've thought about that interaction, I needed his help to help him. He was glad to give it, I was glad to give it. What crossed my mind is that I think that's true in all relationships where care is given or received. For it to go well both have to contribute. The contribution of the care receiver is often hard to see - overwhelmed at we are by the actions of the care giver, but it is there.
Joe cannot help me with my socks, if I don't help him do it.
It's easy to see Joe's contribution, harder to see mine.
My friend, from years ago, who had a little girl with Down Syndrome who she was going to teach to read, by hook or by crook, did so. It was easy to see her helping her daughter reading, it was harder to see that her daughter eagerly got up and sat with her to look at books, look at words, find letters. Without the daughter's participation, which helped the process along, reading would not have been accomplished.
Help is almost never given if help isn't given.
The young man's hand reaching up to receive the change I had to give him, may have looked like an action solely based on his need to have money, it's harder to see, and I'm not sure anyone did, that he was helping me to help him. A hand taking can be a hand giving - and perhaps often is.
I, now, can't recall anyone that I've 'helped' over the years, that didn't 'help' back. Why has that been invisible to me until now?